Business

Jay-Z's digital-only album goes platinum in under a week

Jay-Z with RIAA CEO Cary Sherman Image copyright Roc Nation
Image caption American hip-hop star Jay-Z with Recording Industry Association of America CEO Cary Sherman

Jay-Z's digital-only album 4:44 has gone platinum within five days - despite limits on who could access it.

The music was only available on Tidal, the star's own streaming service, and to customers of US mobile firm Sprint.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) platinum certification, which requires more than one million sales, is rare for digital-only albums.

The RIAA only started counting digital streams last year, with 1,500 plays considered equal to one album sale.

4:44 will reportedly be available on Apple Music and iTunes this week.

Marketing tricks

Sprint was a significant contributor to 4:44's early success, giving away large numbers of the album to its users for free.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The album has received a huge marketing push in the US

The firm is a major shareholder in Tidal, which launched in March 2015.

It is not the first time Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, has partnered with a phone company to generate a sales splash.

His 2013 limited-release album Magna Carta Holy Grail, which was initially only made available to some Samsung users, also went platinum.

Analysis - BBC Music reporter, Mark Savage

On the face of it, this is hugely impressive. In the space of five days, Jay-Z has sold more than one million copies of 4:44 in the US - instantly giving him the sixth biggest-selling album of the year.

His first-week sales are now expected to double those of Kendrick Lamar's Damn! - previously the year's fastest-selling album, shifting 603,000 copies back in April.

But then Variety magazine noticed something odd: The photograph of Jay-Z receiving his platinum award was taken before 4:44 was released.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The star's streaming service, Tidal, has struggled to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music

How could the RIAA be so sure he'd pass the sales barrier? Well, it turns out that Jay-Z had done a deal with mobile company Sprint (a major shareholder in his streaming company Tidal), who gave away copies of the album to their subscribers.

Crucially, they paid for each of those copies, making every "free" album chart-eligible. But the RIAA rules state that the wholesale price of the album only needs to be $2 (£1.55) to register as a sale - so Sprint probably paid Jay-Z less than it would cost to air an advert during the Super Bowl (up to $3.8 million for 30 seconds).

Jay-Z has generated a lot of buzz with the 10-track album, which addresses racial politics and appears to confirm that his mother is "in a same-sex relationship".

On the title track, the star responds to Beyonce's Lemonade album - which appeared to chart a breakdown in her marriage to Jay-Z - and apologises for cheating.

"Look, I apologize, often womanize," he raps. "Took me too long for this song / You mature faster than me, I wasn't ready."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The rapper is one of the most successful businessmen in music

The American rapper has been looking to translate his chart success to his music streaming venture Tidal.

Jay-Z has had 13 solo platinum albums, which his label Roc Nation says is more than any other hip-hop artist.

Last year Tidal said it had three million subscribers but some have questioned the accuracy of those numbers.

Spotify, which now has more than 140 million active monthly users, remains the market leader but has yet to turn a profit.

The number of subscribers paying for its premium service, which does not have advertising, rose by 20 million in 2016 to 48 million.

Apple Music, a key competitor, has doubled its number of subscribers over the last year to 27 million. Unlike Spotify it does not offer a free tier.

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